Chris, Jeanine, Kenny, Reggae, Quincy and Nancy work at an upscale restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from New York City. Leslie used to work there. Chris (Adrien Brody) likes Jeanine (Elise Neal) but hasn’t really gotten over Leslie (Lauryn Hill). Kenny (Simon Baker-Denny) slept with Leslie and is hitting on Jeanine. Kenny and Chris are old friends so naturally Chris can’t forgive Kenny for sleeping with Leslie. The rub is that Chris is also a playwright when not working at the restaurant. Kenny is an actor. One morning Chris is too drunk to show up for casting auditions for his own new play. So Kenny gets cast in the lead role. This does not sit well with Chris.
Chris has fallen off the wagon and is drinking again. Why is he drinking again? Don’t know. Why was he drinking before? Don’t know.
Now then, Jeanine, who is a singer when not working at the restaurant, has fallen in love with Chris, but has moved in with Nancy, who is an alcoholic when not working at the restaurant, and also when working at the restaurant. Nancy’s previous roommate was none other than Leslie, Chris’s ex. Jeanine gets Leslie’s old room.
If this sounds like soap opera, it is. The cast is multi-ethnic. Chris, Kenny, and Reggae are Italian; Jeanine, Leslie and Quincy are black. Steven (Malcolm Jamal Warner) is black and gay. Ethan (Michael Stoyanov) is white and gay. John English (John Carroll Lynch) is anglo, fat and dense.
Restaurant, the film, and restaurant, the restaurant, beg to be taken seriously. The music is jazzy; the dialogue is snappy. It is easy to identify with the hard-working twenty- and thirty-somethings portrayed here. Photography is spare and effective, the underlying racial tension is dealt with honestly, and we find ourselves interested somewhat in the individual lives of each of these characters. So what’s the problem?
The problem is nothing – as in nothing happens. I might watch Restaurant with pleasure on TV as an ongoing series, but for a film I need a reason to stay in my seat. What’s Chris’s problem? Why doesn’t he just tell Jeanine he likes her, if he does? Don’t know. Why does he keep going to bat for the underdogs in the kitchen? Can’t say. Why does Jeanine insist on walking all the way through the restaurant to tell Chris she doesn’t want to talk to him? Haven’t a clue. On TV these little inconsistencies wouldn’t matter, because next week we’d find out a little bit more. But on the big screen they do matter. I want to know more than I am told.
Director Eric Bross seems ready to make a statement about race, or youth, or the arts, but backs out on all of them. It’s a shame, because a film that might have dished up a satisfying meal serves us no more than an appetizer. Although the entire cast is excellent, including David Moscow, who steals the show, and singer Lauryn Hill, an excellent actress who merits more screen time, in the end Bross’ film leaves us hungry.
Maybe you’d do better cooking at home than heading for this Restaurant tonight.